Key House Mirror: Life-affirming and thought-provoking
by Vladan Petkovic
- Michael Noer’s new movie is a multi-layered work that explores love and some deep issues surrounding old age
Danish director Michael Noer's Key House Mirror [+see also:
interview: Michael Noer
film profile] world-premiered as the opening film of the 38th Göteborg International Film Festival, and the programmers’ decision to give this touching, provocative, and marvellously directed and acted film such emphasis definitely paid off.
The movie has it all: a rising star of a director who has two accomplished and multi-award-winning films (Northwest [+see also:
interview: Michael Noer
film profile], winner of the FIPRESCI Prize at GIFF 2013; and R [+see also:
film profile], Best Nordic Film and FIPRESCI Prize winner in 2010) under his belt; two living legends of Scandinavian cinema in the main roles, with Denmark's Ghita Nørby (Bille August's Best Intentions and last year's Silent Heart [+see also:
film profile]) and Sweden's Sven Wollter, whose credits range from Andrei Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice to Colin Nutley's House of Angels trilogy; and a wonderfully precise script by Noer and Anders Frithiof August telling a life-affirming but still none-too-conservative story about ageing – a recurring theme in European cinema in recent years.
Lily (Nørby) moves into a nursing home with her husband of 50 years, Max (Jens Brenaa), who has suffered multiple strokes and is immobile and unresponsive. Lily is very caring and loving of her husband, but she is actually probably just doing her best to alleviate the situation for herself: it is not certain nor possible to prove whether he can perceive what is happening around him. But she clings to the shadow of old love, to the now-limp body she had been physical with for half a century – until a man nicknamed Pilot (Wollter) moves into the room across from theirs.
Actually a former pilot, he is a man of the world, brimming with charm and energy, despite his Parkinson's disease. They fall for each other passionately, Lily feeling like a teenager and almost not believing the powers of emotion she has at her age. But it soon turns out that she, having believed she was in the nursing home for her husband's sake only, is in the early stages of dementia (the title of the film comes from a memory test that she takes).
There is one particularly provocative and heartrending scene when Lily and Max are celebrating Christmas with their families. She decides to tell her daughter about Pilot while Max is sitting in his wheelchair between them. This turns the film’s emotion around, and we are reminded how people freshly in love can be selfish and inconsiderate – and the question of whether Max can hear and react to his environment is maybe partially answered by the fact that minutes later, he is suddenly sitting in a strange, disturbing position.
This is just one of the film's numerous layers, but it is the one that looms over the whole story and atmosphere. While the narrative is straightforward and meticulously directed, it allows the viewer’s mind to create its own backstories.
Nørby is the absolute star of the film; her transformational abilities have not deteriorated at all, and if anything, they have increased. Certainly, working with Bille August on a similar role in Silent Heart helped, and these two films would actually make for a great double bill.